This was my third EJC. Aside from the previous Millstreet in 2006, I was in Munich in 2011. There is so much to write about, so this review is going to be divided into several parts:
- In this one, I’ll give a general overview of EJC 2014 with many of the events and goings-on.
- Part two will talk about the nightly Open Stages and the Irish Gala Show.
- Part three will include the Legends of the Stage and the final Gala show.
- There are also some interviews planned and hopefully some special contributions from well-known personalities.
I love traveling from far to EJC. At the airport, I saw a guy wearing a hat that was obviously for manipulation. Of course, he, too, was headed to Millstreet. At the train station in Dublin on Saturday morning, you could see people with clubs poking out of their bags, diabolos strapped on the outside of backpacks, and people carrying bundles of hoops. On the rails, people couldn’t resist playing with their toys as the energy and excitement increased as we headed south.
On the train I wrote an EJC Limerick:
EJC this year is in Millstreet
The juggling really is sweet
I want to meet Steve Mills
And drink Guinness by the green hills
But above all, I hope the beer’ll be Mills’ treat!
There was a short walk from the train station to the convention site at Green Glens Arena. We were a spontaneous parade with all sorts of freaks and beautiful people. Sure, the freaks are actually beautiful and the straight folk somewhat freaky. There is no one culture at EJC, but we all share a common bond. We were 2000+ jugglers from dozens of countries and we’re all family.
Registration was smooth and efficient and we quickly went to set up our tents so we could start throwing and catching things. There was lots of action in the hall 24/7.
I saw lots of great jugglers, but here are some highlights of some of the cool things I saw people working on during the 9 days:
- Michael Parker was working on ball spinning curls with both hands and also his kickup to a ball on ball spin.
- Corrina, an unassuming young woman from Germany, was going from 4 club singles to decent runs of 3 club singles in one hand.
- Fuensanta Rodríguez and Cinthia, both from Mexico and both recently contributors to the Tricks of the Month series (watch Cinthia and Fuensanta), were doing great juggling while balancing clubs blindly upright on their heads (mostly bulb down, but also bulb up).
- The Norwegian crew of Kristian Wanvik, Haavard Hvidsten, Iver Tronstad, Julian Sæther, and Eivind Dragsjø were doing all sorts of crazy things, but notably clean and beautiful patterns with 7 and 9 balls using their Norwik Russian-style balls.
- Ofek Snir from Israel spun with fury. I saw him working on 4 and 5 balls with every possible way of going in and out of double and triple pirouettes: backcrosses, overheads, lots of siteswaps, multi-stages, and just crazy whirlwinds of spinning moves. He also does multiple pirouettes easily under 7 balls. I missed it, but apparently at EJC he succeeded in doing a 5 ball, 5 up 1440 (that’s 4 pirouettes)! Ofek doesn’t really juggle clubs, but someone explained to him how to do 5 club backcrosses, so once he understood the concept, he was getting runs with more than 20 throws on the gym floor. Expect more from this 15 year old in the future.
- On the first night of EJC, there was a group of 5 guys standing in a circle and working on 11 balls: Peter Bone from England easily flashes it nearly every time and also had lots of good longer runs, Simon À Campo also got the flash a few times, Bar Mualem from Israel had some decent attempts, Eivind Dragsjø was almost there, and Julian Sæther who was the only one not using beanbags, preferring instead to use his Norwiks and starting with a kick up (and nearly getting it). What a sight to behold! I felt like one of those cat videos, but instead of moving my head back and forth following a laser pointer, I was looking at flash attempt after flash attempt in every direction.
- Later Peter Bone made some attempts at 12 and 13 balls, but he was thwarted by the ceiling and gravity. By the way, 13 balls in the air looks like about ten times more balls than 11.
Peter Bone also had a bunch of less exerting skills he was working on. He does a dual balance with two poles: one balanced on his forehead and a shorter one on his nose. He’s pretty proficient at doing corrections such that fixing one doesn’t ruin the other. Opposite to what we all assumed, Peter explained that his main focus is on the taller pole and the nose corrections are mostly on auto-pilot. He can also juggle 3 clubs while dual balancing. Peter also spent a lot of time practicing his 3 ball stack (non-spinning). Basically, he holds one ball in his hand and balances two balls on top of it. In order to maintain the balance, he has to make minute adjustments that transmit from level to level. These tricks require intense concentration, but have beautiful results.
- Katherine “Pancake” from Germany working on balancing a ring on her forehead while jumping rope.
- There were a bunch of people working on 5 diabolos low on the string. Ronnie Slowinski from Poland/England seemed to be working on it the most at EJC. At first I felt bad for his friend whose job seemed to be just to stand next to him and throw in the 5th diabolo for each attempt, but I saw later that they switched roles. Ronnie said that there are a bunch of Europeans and even more Asians working on 5 diabolo shuffles now.
Dave Kelly from Liverpool had some unique tricks with tennis rackets. The one I saw him working on most was holding two rackets with overlapping handles facing different directions (think double-ended racket) and juggling three beanbags in a wavy motion. He was able to get surprisingly long runs of this with 6 beanbags (yeah, that’s with two rackets in each hand). Dave also does 3 beanbags on two rackets – one held in each hand – and does crazy tricks like behind the head throws, incorporating the rackets into the pattern, and tons of other surprising moves.
- Alexis Levillon is a semi-professional performer from France who invented a spectacular diabolo style combining regular horizontal diabolo and excalibur (or vertax) vertical diabolo at the same time. Yes, two diabolos on one string, but at different orientations. Alexis has already developed over 20 tricks and thinks that there is a lot more potential with this style that he calls, “Galexis.” Not only is it a great concept for a seemingly impossible trick, but it’s aesthetically beautiful to watch him execute the moves.
As I said, I’m going to cover the main shows in other articles, but there were a lot of smaller shows, too. I didn’t make it to any of the fire shows or Renegades, but there were daily “Café Cabaret” shows organized by Bob from Canada. The goal was to provide a venue for people to experiment up close and personal in one of the circus tents set up outside. There were shows every day, but I only made it to a few. Here are some of the acts I saw:
- Anna Fischer from Australia doing a hula hoop act. She had great transitions from throws into hooping on different parts of her body. She did a variety of spinning and twirling tricks with single and multiple hoops.
- Ray from the Canary Islands did an act I refer to as a comedy of letdowns. He set up a lot of tricks with many different objects, but faked us out each time. In the end, though, he took the 20-odd unused props and constructed a statue which he balanced on his face.
- Florian from Holland did some classic 3-7 ball juggling.
- Ellie from Chicago performed some nicely synchronized club swinging. She had sweet arm movements combined with fancy footwork.
- Shai Ben Yosef from Israel entertained with tons of hat tricks and a huge grin.
- Neil from England did some very likable clowning and juggled on top of a bowling ball rola bola while wearing a crown of clubs.
- Robert from the Netherlands did some great contact and manipulation with 1 ball.
- Jonathan from France showed off tricks he had just learned with combinations of balls and hoops. He had 3 of each, but whenever he dropped a prop, he’d switch it – so he might be juggling 2 balls and a hoop or 2 hoops and a ball, or 3 of a complete set. He had some sweet combinations but the crowd’s favorite was his trick of throwing 2 balls through a hoop on every pass.
- Zack from Canada performed with 3 clubs in a fast style highlighted with complex balances. With 4 clubs, he did some cool high throws with helicopter bumps. He finished with 5 and then 6 clubs.
It wasn’t all just fun and shows, but actually, the volunteering I did was fun, too. I agreed to be a “runner” on a couple different days which basically meant that I did odd jobs as necessary. I did some garbage pickup, unlocked boxes of tokens for the showers a few times, went around on a tidying mission preceding a health and safety inspection, and spent a lot of time at the volunteer desk recruiting people for badge control, stewarding shows, bar-tending, cleaning, and other important tasks. I’m glad I did it and I got to meet a lot of amazing people including Dee Toher and Eva Schubach, two serial volunteers (as opposed to serial killers, these women just do non-stop wonderful service for jugglers).
There was an interesting setup at one end of the hall. In a small fenced-off area, a lot of expensive looking equipment electronics were set up for an experiment on the neuroscience of hand-eye coordination. Dr. Joost Dessing was using 8 high-speed cameras, each recording at 500 frames/second, to analyze how jugglers make adjustments to their patterns. For example, when one has a timing problem, is it corrected by adjusting the height of the next catch (catching it earlier or later), by throwing subsequent balls higher or lower, by changes to the dwell time (the time the balls are held in the hand), or some other technique? When a throw goes too wide or too far forward, how does a juggler stabilize it? Dr. Dessing will be analyzing his footage and hopefully publish results that contribute to the understanding of how we do what we do.
On Wednesday of EJC, they held the EJA General Assembly. Smartly, the put it in one corner of the gym, so attendance was quite high. Country reps were elected, past fests discussed (Lublin was sadly severely in debt still), and future EJCs locations established. 2015 has had a rough year with first Berlin having to back down and just a couple weeks ago Karlsruhe announced that their venue was just condemned based on new safety regulations. So, a team of mainly Austrians came up with a plan for a location in northern Italy that has suitable facilities. Go to http://www.ejc2015.org/ to learn more and to find out how you can help. We also voted for a site outside of Amsterdam for 2016 (http://www.ejc2016.org/). We also saw a presentation for the Azores Islands as a possibility for 2017.
I spent some time perusing the two vendors halls. It was great to see lots of happy shoppers emerge with their shiny new props. I had a nice talk with Kristian Wanvik about his new Russian-style balls. I tried them a bit, but I’m too old and stubborn to switch to these new-fangled props. But Russian balls definitely had a huge presence in the gym.
Venturing outside the hall, I caught a few of the athletic competitions going on. I saw volleyclub, jolleystick (devilstick volleyball), and juggling football (soccer). I didn’t get the actual results, but I heard that the Germans dominated in the volley club tournament.
But the biggest sporting event was fight night, an intense combat (gladiators) competition organized by Luke Burrage. He did preliminary rounds during the day, but took to the main stage at night. The capacity crowd was treated to a spectacle of juggling skill and agility as the combatants came on stage for one on one bouts. The contests were full of smashes and steals and spectacular saves. There was also great sportsmanship, such as when someone had an unforced drop, the opponent would also drop so that he wouldn’t get an unearned point. Third place went to Luke Burrage, second to Iver Tronstad, and first went to perennial winner, Jochen Pfeiffer.
What was it like in the main hall at night? Well, this juggler took a break from juggling to sit in the bleachers for a while to get a birds-eye view of the action. I hadn’t previously noticed the line of some 30 pairs of passers across the length of the hall. I don’t think it was coordinated, but the most logical and unintrusive space to pass in a crowded gym is right next to other passers, and it just snowballed as more and more couples settled in next to the others. There they stood, shoulder to shoulder to shoulder (and beyond), and watching from the end of the tunnel I was amazed at the mass of well over 100 clubs overlapping each other. The view was somewhat like a Jackson Pollack painting. I wasn’t able to get ahold of the photographer to use his picture in the article, but I found this shot that kind of captures it.
Hooping is very popular at EJC. Aside from the shows mentioned (here and in the upcoming articles), the gym had tons of people gyrating their hips and much much more. There were also an abundance of vertical hoops being juggled, isolated, and otherwise manipulated.
Another cool thing I saw from my vantage point was towers of ball and club patterns. Aside from the highest numbers, even the 5 club and 7 ball patterns are often run very high, particularly for those with the Scandinavian style. I also loved watching the occasional bursts of high siteswaps flying like fireworks in the distance.
There were live bands performing in one corner of the gym nearly every night. It was a great backdrop for the juggling, but many also just danced and swayed by the stage.
People wanting a physical break were socializing in island clumps everywhere. And there was a large game area with many dozens of classic and esoteric card and board games that you could check out. I played some nice games of chess, Battle Sheep, Elk Fest, and my new favorite: Lazer Khet.
One night I caught a bunch of guys working on 7 ball isolated endurance (standing on chairs). I didn’t get all their names, but the winner about 95% of the time was the amazing French juggler, Robin Spinelli (who is also known for his diabolo prowess).
The last thing I’ll mention about the late-night gym is the head balancers. They’re everywhere at EJC (even during the day), walking down the street, socializing, standing in lines, etc. But late at night they seem to be having fun running around the hall avoiding the prop and human obstacles everywhere while maintaining their balance. Quite a few were also able to move around spryly with clubs in blind balance on top of their heads.
Millstreet is home to about 1500 locals, but this week they were outnumbered by jugglers. On Saturday, the EJC parade was certainly a spectacle nobody wanted to miss. Led by a samba band on stilts, there were jugglers outfitted in outrageous costumes, crazy makeup, balloon hats and accessories, and every sort of portable and mountable circus equipment. The townsfolk were in awe as we circled the main drag.
The parade route led to a nearby field where the games were held. Lots of fun was had, but the big winners of the day were: Mieke Lizotte placing in hula hoop and handstand (getting 2nd in both on minor technicalities); Iver Tronstad winning 5 clubs twice (the first time was after a huge gust of wind knocked everyone out within about 20 seconds, but he also won a longer contest), first in Simon says, and 2nd in combat (to Jochen Pfeiffer, of course); Ofek Snir blew everyone away in 7 and 5 ball endurances (and when they tried to weed people out by having them do a 3 up pirouette, Ofek did a 720 cleanly).
Saturday night was the main gala, but you’ll read about that in an upcoming article…
Things wound down on Sunday morning as people started to clean up and pack. By mid-morning, the hall was pretty well tidied and cleared out. I was in denial that things were over, but eventually I packed my equipment and headed out.
The highlight on the train ride to Dublin was meeting another juggling icon, whom many probably didn’t realize was at EJC. Eric Urhane, the understated creator of Eric’s Extension was on board with his wife, children, and parents. I would have also liked to have met Ken Burke (of Burke’s Barrage) and Rick Rubenstein (Rubinstein’s Revenge) on this trip, but they weren’t at EJC, so I’ll settle for Steve Mills and Eric Urhane, and hosts of other fascinating people.
Special thanks for permission from the following people to use photos for this article (links are to their full EJC albums):
Luke Burrage – http://www.lukeburrage.com/blog/archives/2105
Inge Picqueur – https://www.facebook.com/inge.picqueur.3/media_set?set=a.10152172277761851&type=1
Joke Schot – https://www.facebook.com/joke.schot.7/media_set?set=a.708147465926753.1073741882.100001945173466&type=1
Kristian Wanvik – https://www.facebook.com/norwikjuggling/photos/a.222021514649735.1073741828.221432788041941/273701522815067/?type=3&theater
Sagi Bracha – https://www.facebook.com/sagijuggling/media_set?set=a.353136961500040.1073741836.100004112171679&type=3
Stephen McGinley – https://www.facebook.com/stephenmcginley/media_set?set=a.10152548365086628.1073741831.661191627&type=1